The Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered his Budget Statement today. The recent decidedly spring-like weather reflects the brightening economic picture — the Office for National Statistics recently announced that UK GDP grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013 and 1.8% in 2013. But should we worry that forecasts predict another cold snap?
Certainly, the optimistic outlook isn’t shared by all. The Bank of England remains cautious about the recovery, voting unanimously to hold the base rate at 0.5%. Minutes from their meeting state, "There were initial signs that the anticipated broadening from household to business spending might have already begun. Even so, there remained some way to go to ensure that the recovery was both balanced and sustainable."
With this mixed picture, The Chancellor undoubtedly had a challenge on his hands to convince businesses and the public alike that the corner has been turned. So what were his main headline announcements?
Personal, yes. Political, certainly. Business focused? Not that I noticed.
Like much of the country, we’ve been glued to the Budget today wondering if there’ll be any surprises from George Osborne. As publishers of the Donut websites, we’re always particularly interested in what the Budget means for small businesses.
Mostly, the Budget came across as being a feel-good one, with an eye to individuals. The saver, the pensioner, the tax payer all have cause to feel uplifted by the Budget. Those pension pots that have hitherto been locked behind measly annuity schemes, unless you want to pay punitive tax levels to draw them down, suddenly seem within shiny reach at only a basic level of tax.
Those people, and no, I’m not one of them, with a spare £15,000 per year to squirrel away will now be able to put it all into tax efficient ISAs. The personal tax allowance increase actually puts more real cash into a lot of pockets. Families could breathe a little more easily with transferable tax benefits and childcare allowances. Companies with up to £500,000 to invest in developing their business could also do well.
The continuing help for first-time buyers and the promised increase in housing stock is good news for associated companies including removals firms (who also benefit from reduced fuel duty), the construction industry and conveyancers.
So much for individuals and big businesses. But most micro-businesses and start-ups, who were singled out for attention in last year’s Autumn Statement, would still be straining to hear themselves mentioned.
Arguably, any Budget that makes people feel more optimistic and actually changes the amount of cash they have to spend, from tax cuts or accessible pension pots, will boost the recovering economy. And that, in turn, is good news for small businesses. It also, of course, won’t do any political harm to the Coalition.
Personally, I thought the tweet from Norman Smith, chief political correspondent at the BBC News Channel, summed it up nicely: "Booze, Bingo, Business and Savers. That's your #Budget2014 Folks."
In the past 20 years, methods of communication have increased significantly. Technology is continually developing new ways of contacting friends, family, those we work with, suppliers, customers and others.
With the advent of email, Skype, Hangouts, IMing and Facetime, businesses are spoilt for choice when it comes to contacting customers and others, and often overlook the power of the humble phone call. So what advantages does using a telephone offer?
While email and instant messages are often sent while the sender is multi-tasking, telephoning someone requires taking time out of your day to stop and make the call. This shows more care, demonstrates more attention and better customer service.
Messages can be conveyed more quickly over the phone than exchanging numerous messages by other means over the course of a day. When an immediate answer is required, a phone call is the best way.
The meaning or urgency of a subject can get lost when conveyed by written words, because some things are just more effectively communicated by phone.
It’s often difficult to keep up to date with all new communication methods and ‘who is familiar with what’. Instead of having the difficult conversation about ‘who’s using what’, you can make life simpler by picking up the phone.
Using technology can often involve technical difficulties. Effective internet communication, using programmes such as Skype and Facetime, require a reliable internet connection, non-faulty equipment and technological know-how. Things can and do go wrong.
Similar to how letters carry more authority, because of the traditional nature of a phone call, it generally holds more weight than an email or an instant message. If you want to communicate an official message, deliver it with your voice.
Sometimes being able to see the person to whom you’re speaking is useful, but more often it’s a hindrance and one extra thing to worry about. Facial expressions can give things away and it can make working from home a little more difficult.
Not long ago, making landline calls to overseas numbers was extremely expensive. However, that no longer needs to be the case, you can make cheap calls to hundreds of other countries for a reasonable price.
Blog supplied by Ruth Barton on behalf of Call Happy, provider of cheap calls to Uganda and worldwide.
When you’re starting a business from scratch, there’s so much to learn. As the owner, you’re the person who ultimately needs to make a call on your investments, whether that’s product, people, technology, finance, sales, marketing or many other things. So, when it comes to marketing, what are the fundamentals you need to know to make sound decisions to support your growth?
Marketing helps you sell your products or services. Really effective marketing does this in a sustainable way. Businesses that nail this early on almost without exception outperform those who take a more tactical approach. If you lack basic knowledge of marketing, the following six pointers should keep you on track strategically.
Effective marketing is about taking someone on a journey from hearing about you to buying from you, and from there, to buying more and telling the world about you. As the business owner, taking the time to understand how your buyers do this will always be a good investment.
Looking at the buying decision from their perspective, ask what they want and need to know, how much time they devote to finding out and whom they ask along the way. If you’re able to picture this, you’re much better equipped to assess whether your marketing tools and techniques will help these people decide to buy from you.
The ‘sales funnel’ image is meant to show the decreasing number of people at each stage in the buying decision, which makes it funnel-shaped. It does not actually behave like a funnel; pouring more into the top is rarely the best sustainable approach for your business.
It can be enormously helpful to replace this picture with one of a bucket (your products and services and how they are delivered), your funnels (those things that support turning interest into sales), and taps (things that grab people’s attention and get them interested in what you do). When you have this picture in mind, you have a much better handle on what a marketing operation really looks like… Yes, it’s a bit messy – and it leaks!
With this new mental image, you can quickly see why it makes more sense to start at the bottom and work up, because each element builds on the last. So many businesses, particularly start-ups, find themselves running expensive marketing taps into a leaky bucket. You don’t have money to waste – so don’t.
If you can think about each marketing tool or technique in broad terms as related to the bucket, funnels or taps, you’ll be able to quickly assess whether you need it and what function it serves. So, when an ad sales guy, SEO guru or whoever else calls you with an ‘unbeatable deal on awareness-driving activity’, you can ask yourself if you need another tap, and if there are funnels and a bucket for each tap you switch on.
With all this in mind, the next piece of mental gymnastics is to flip the image horizontally… over time. Over what time frame does the buyer move from hearing about you to becoming a loyal customer? This becomes the shortest possible timeframe in which to see profitable payback on marketing investment, and if you’re measuring things sooner, you might end up stopping an activity that would have paid off handsomely in the long term.
Once you have these fundamentals firmly in mind and you can map your market and your business against it in broad terms, you’ll be much better placed to get the experts you need to put in place an end-to-end marketing operation for your business. But you’ll have enough knowledge to be able to follow and be an integral part of what they are doing.
Many SMEs are currently looking to upgrade their point of sale (PoS) systems. They were probably obsolete three or more years ago, but in the downturn, many had no choice but to keep them working, regardless of the high cost of maintenance and support. Now, it is clear that old PoS systems can no longer operate in a multi-channel world.
They can't identify the customer (other than through an old-style loyalty card), take delayed orders, process click-and-collect orders, book online orders, give access to online catalogues or process returns for goods bought online.
The replacement options are often very expensive if the business is looking to replace like with like – big hardware and proprietary software with more of the same. A cheaper and just as effective option, particularly for smaller business, is to use a mobile device such as an iPad and power it using relatively inexpensive applications that only charge for what is actually used.
Already in the US, major retailers say they will never build another fixed-till point, choosing to go mobile on a network in every store.
The joy of a mobile solution is that because all the apps and data are in the cloud, the business owner can access them through their smart phone and effectively run all sorts of regular tasks without ever having to be on site.
These mobile solutions also enable the retailer to connect directly to their customers through their own smart devices, to share data, orders, messages, voucher redemption, video – a host of content that both parties need to share.
Blog supplied by Oscar Heron, digital manager at apphardware.com, a one-stop webstore for business apps and hardware specifically aimed at SMEs.
(Updated on Budget Day, 19 March)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced the 2014 Budget on 19 March 2014.
Throughout the day, Start Up Donut covered the key points from Budget 2014 affecting small businesses:
Let us know your thoughts about the UK Budget 2014.
Budget 2014 announcements and response
What you told us you wanted from the budget